A major rediscovery, arguably comparable to those of Bruno Schulz, Leo Perutz, and Joseph Roth. A small, beautifully...


The first English translation of a brooding, densely atmospheric, forgotten 1942 novel whose eminent Hungarian expatriate author (b. 1900) committed suicide, while living in the US, in his 89th year.

It’s set in the late 1930s at a remote castle near the Carpathian Mountains, where a retired general prepares to receive a visit from a former comrade in arms, whom he hasn’t seen in more than 40 years. A lengthy prelude hints at a scandal of long duration, introduces the sibylline figure of Henrik’s (i.e., the general’s) elderly nursemaid, and dredges up memories of Henrik’s privileged boyhood, successful military career and outwardly successful marriage, and conflicted longtime closeness (“Ours was a friendship out of the ancient sagas”) with Konrad (the expected visitor), the companion of his youth, and, it is hinted, the destroyer of Henrik’s happiness. Konrad arrives; the two old men greet each other cordially, dine, then sit together as Henrik pours out an increasingly tense tale of the unequal comradeship of a boy born to great wealth and another whose career was fed by his family’s sacrifices; of Henrik’s marriage to delicate, musically inclined Krisztina and the “story à trois” created by her increasing intimacy with the introverted, similarly gifted Konrad; and of a climactic day in their common history—that of a stag hunt, following which Konrad immediately resigned his commission and departed for the tropics, and Henrik and Krisztina began living apart, never to speak or meet again during her brief lifetime. Márai communicates these judiciously staggered revelations in a carefully wrought epigrammatic style (filled with complex extended metaphors) that’s a bit reminiscent of early Thomas Mann. The end result is a mesmerizing dramatization of the tensions between culture and militarism, tradition and impulse, which captures in a perfectly controlled larger metaphor the vanity and rigidity of an old order threatened by unrestraint and passion and destined to flare up and destroy itself, leaving only “embers” behind.

A major rediscovery, arguably comparable to those of Bruno Schulz, Leo Perutz, and Joseph Roth. A small, beautifully fashioned masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40756-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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